A Wildly Popular App for Churches Is Now an Anti-Vax Hotbed

The Christian tech company is spreading misinfo along with the Good News.

Tim and Kristy Turner believe they were called to spread the word of Jesus through apps. In 2005, the pair founded Subsplash, a technology company whose mission, as stated on its website, is “to glorify God and proclaim Jesus is Lord by building a great company that drives for humility, innovation, and excellence to delight the millions of people on the Subsplash Platform.” The Turners hoped their platforms would help church leaders build websites and apps that would allow them to spread the Good News to their congregation with the click of a few buttons.

Today, Subsplash has offices in three states and counts among its 14,000 clients the largest churches in the country, small congregations in rural communities, and even a few synagogues. The company has expanded its platform and added new features: Pastors can now use Subsplash to host podcasts, videos, and a tithing and charitable giving widget that allow users to easily donate to the church or other causes. Subsplash apps can send congregants push notifications with service times, daily Bible verses, or anything else their pastors deem worthy. The pandemic has accelerated Subsplash’s growth: In March 2020, the company acquired a live streaming service that allowed churches to broadcast services as lockdowns began.

Tim Turner, Subsplash’s fauxhawked forty-something founder whose video appearances combine evangelical earnestness with Silicon Valley idealism, likes to describe his company as a conduit for God’s word. “The Lord is in control, and it can be especially fun if we can be submitted to that,” Turner says in a video Subsplash produced in 2019 about the company’s history. The company’s name, he explains, reflects this ethos: “Sub” is short for “submitting to God,” and “splash” is a reference to innovation. (This site preceded the much more well known Substack platform.) The Subsplash website is full of rhapsodic testimonials from satisfied customers. “We’ve received rave reviews already about [the app] because it provides one more medium to extend our messages about the gospel out to the world,” says one from the lead pastor at one megachurch in Texas. “May the gospel be shared over and over through the work you guys do and may our great King’s name be glorified.”

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In its promotional materials, Subsplash promises to give individual churches full control over their content. Indeed, what is available on Subsplash-hosted platforms varies widely, as it reflects the diversity in spiritual and political beliefs of the vast array of congregations in the United States. “With no ads or censorship, auto-updated content, and a fully-customizable media player, keeping gospel-centered content in front of your community has never been easier,” the company boasts.

But there’s a dark side to the company’s hands-off approach. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Subsplash has given voice to and amplified messages from many religiously affiliated anti-vaccine activists. On one Subsplash-hosted website called “His Glory Me,” viewers can watch videos that urge them not to yield to pressure to get vaccinated against COVID-19. In a video from a few weeks ago, featured guest chiropractor Dr. Bryan Ardis insists, “The Delta variant is not dangerous.” The Church of Glad Tidings’ “Free and Brave” video series hosted by Subsplash features noted anti-vaccine advocates, including Judy Mikovits, the personality behind the “Plandemic” conspiracy theory video. A September 12 video from Subsplash-hosted site Good Life Broadcasting spins theories about ominous connections among vaccines, the government, Bill Gates, and the Chinese Communist Party. Through Subsplash, the American Pastors Network runs a podcast series called “Stand in the Gap,” which rails against mandatory vaccines and questions the seriousness of COVID-19. A July episode featured noted purveyor of vaccine misinformation Dr. Robert Malone, who claimed that “we don’t have good information” about the vaccines’ risks, and that he was being censored in trying to warn people about the potential dangers. Some sites hosted by Subsplash also promote misinformation around the antiparasitic drug ivermectin, suggesting that it can prevent hospitalization. Other Subsplash sites host videos devoted to the QAnon conspiracy theory.

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Subsplash’s hosting of anti-vaccine ideology isn’t limited to churches. In addition, the company also developed an app for Texans for Vaccine Choice, a powerful anti-vaccine PAC that has helped Republican state representatives who oppose vaccines to win elections. In a recent Facebook video, Texans for Vaccine Choice director Jackie Schlegel offered an impassioned endorsement. “It’s not a fancy-schmancy app,” says Schlegel. “But it took a lot of work to find a developer who didn’t want to censor us.” Earlier in the video, Schlegel describes her own experience of leaving her church because its youth group leaders required kids to wear “masks outside in the summer heat, standing on socially distanced dots as if they were little socialist soldiers.”

Published at www.motherjones.com

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